Friday, June 27, 2014

Edward Hopper on Cape Cod

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA is bringing me to give a talk on Edward Hopper's life on Cape Cod on July 31, 2014. It is part of their programming around their new exhibition The Unknown Hopper: Edward Hopper as Illustrator that runs at the Museum through October 26.

Hopper was drawn to aspects of the world that he felt hadn't been explored enough. He found unexpected meaning in rooftops, glimpses through windows and in humble backyard settings. And it is intriguing that when his wife Jo inherited money he chose to build his studio outside New York on Cape Cod. Cape Cod, especially its outer section from Eastham out to Truro and Provincetown is a pretty distinctive landscape with a look all its own. If one looks at the history of artists who made the Cape one of their subjects, nobody in my opinion nailed it like Hopper. 

Above is one of my own paintings, Edward Hopper's Road, oil on canvas, 40 x 60" that is in the collection of the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart, IN. That's Brian Byrn, the Museum's Curator with the painting during a solo show the Museum held of paintings. I painted it during one of my residencies in Hopper's Truro studio some years ago. It is of the winding dirt road that leads to Hopper's place. It gives a good feeling of the landscape around the studio- large rolling sand dunes. 

In Hopper's day the Cape was only just beginning to recover from the near total deforestation it was subjected to in the 19th century. Now some two decades later than when I painted this oil, the same view is completely blocked by new growth in the roadside trees.

Below is Edward Hopper's, Hills, South Truro,  oil on canvas,  now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. 

The painting shows what it looked like there in 1930. This is the view looking west from a rise towards the cresting line of duned where Hopper would choose to build his studio (he chose to put it on the dark dune at the top right, about an inch in from the right hand side of this image). From there he could look out to sea to the west or survey the dunescape looking back inland.

Another of my personal favorites is The Camel's Hump, painted in 1931, three years before Hopper would construct his new studio just off to the right of the space depicted in the oil. 

The Camel's Hump is one of the big stars of the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY. That same sense of monumental rolling sandy dunes comes across clearly.

Some years later I went to stay and work at Hopper's studio for the first time in 1983 and did this oil looking towards the studio from the approach road. These days this view is obscured by the taller foliage. 

Here's a photo of the studio taken from the path Hopper would walk down to go swimming on the beach on Cape Cod Bay. The views from the many windows in the studio that's located at the top of a commandingly high sand dune make you feel you're in an observatory. In many ways you are. I think that is what Hopper wanted for himself.

With the tide out I was able to shoot this view of the studio from the beach. 

And here is the famous portrait of Hopper by his studio taken in 1960 by Arnold Newman. Hopper's wife Jo appears in the background.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New Paintings at Isalos Fine Art in Stonington, ME

Isalos Fine Art in Stonington, ME just received four new Philip Koch oil paintings for their summer season. The gallery is owned by Michael and Rebecca Daugherty (Rebecca is also a painter and that's her oil of the gallery above). Last summer one of the gallery's feature shows was a solo exhibition, Inside Edward Hopper's World: Paintings by Philip Koch, that focused just on my work done in Edward Hopper's former studio on Cape Cod and his boyhood home in Nyack, NY. 

Here's Michael Daugherty standing in front of some of my work in the show last summer in his gallery.

The show did well and garnered a feature article by Bob Keyes in the 8/11/13 edition of the Maine Sunday Telegram (you can read the article here).

This year we're showing my landscapes.

One of the new quartet is my Adirondack Lake: Red, oil on panel, 10 x 7 1/2", 2014. It was painted on Lake Placid, NY near where they held the Winter Olympics.

I emphasized the amazing density of the tightly packed trees one finds in the forests throughout the Northeast. As a boy I went to scout camp near Lake Placid and was surprised by its northern forests. Previously I had had no idea trees and bushes and mosses could be so tightly packed together. Their forests were dazzlingly beautiful, but maybe also a little haunted.

In another new oil, Uncharted, oil on panel, 7 1/2 x 10" I worked entirely from memory and imagination to create a winter landscape that beckons us to explore its deeper spaces. To me it's a metaphor for the allure of what lies down the future path for all of us, something intriguing but also something that sounds a note of uncertainty. One of my memories that served as yeast for this image was the heavy snows of my childhood in upstate New York in Rochester- they often meant no school and the prospect of a day exploring the deep snows with my friends.

Sonnet II, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 13", 2014, was painted from a vine charcoal drawing I made on location last Fall on the Schoodic Peninsula. The view looks south towards the mountains on Mt. Desert Island in Maine. On the right is Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic Coast in the U.S. Next to the wide open horizontals of the surrounding bays it has a remarkable presence as if it was a mountain many times its size. If any mountain can be said to have a spirit, Cadillac would have to be on that list.

And my final painting was begun just a few hundred yards from Isalos Fine Art's building when I was in Stonington for the opening reception last August of my solo exhibition there. It is Isle au Haut: Morning III, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 13", 2013. I had climbed the steep hillside in back of the art gallery to gain a vista of Stonington Harbor and in the distance the low mountains on Isle au Haut, an island on the north side of Penobscot Bay that's part of Acadia National Park.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My painting Banner at Thomas Deans Fine Art in Atlanta

My painting Banner, oil on panel, 24 x 18", 2014 is in the new group exhibition Summer Pleasures at Thomas Deans Fine Art in Atlanta. There is an opening reception Friday, June 13 from 6-8 p.m. The show runs through Aug. 2, 2014. It is a painting based entirely on memory. And it comes with some history. As I often do I worked out this image over the course of years.

Below is the initial version, an oil on panel from 2008 measuring 10 x 7 1/2". And it too stemmed from events farther back. About ten years ago my wife Alice and I went on a painting excursion to northern Vermont. One morning I got rained out from working with my portable easel in the field but found a wonderful alternative view from the breakfast room of our B&B in Burlington. Situated on a hill, it looked out on a towering pine that framed a distant view of Lake Champlain and the even more distant Adirondack Mountains of New York. 

The pine just spoke to me. It had a broken rhythm of shapes and empty intervals that suggested its surviving decades of northern winters. I make drawings of things like this- so often they surpass in richness even the most inventive thing we create in our minds. We'd be foolish not to take them in, study and enjoy them. So I set up in the breakfast room and made a vine charcoal drawing that served as a basis for this small oil. 

The far distance came from another of my memories. Way back in 1975 I visited Cape Cod for the first time. Previously I had known its distinctive topography only through the paintings Edward Hopper had made there. I had always found them slightly odd. But seeing it in person I realized Hopper was more than anything truthful to the spirit of the place. I was transfixed by the landscape of the Cape's enormous sand dunes. In particular the monumental silhouette of Lieutenant Island in Wellfleet, just offshore from the cabin I had rented with friends, delighted my eye and found a permanent home in my imagination. It seemed the perfect backdrop for my evolving Banner painting. 

I'm sometimes asked what a painting like Banner is about or what it means. A lot of things, of course, but I'd be kidding if I didn't admit to much speculating on just that over the months I worked on these pieces.

The juxtaposition of the upward thrusting tree against the dense earthbound distant dune is really the heart of the piece. They speak of the curious dance we all do between the moving and changing parts of our lives and what stays unchanging and gives us a foundation for everything else. 

Is it clouding over and about to storm or is the overcast breaking open and just about to let the low sunlight blast down upon our foreground tree? I like to imagine it both ways. And the tree itself is far from densely verdant. Instead it seems to have weathered its share of years and storms. Maybe from that it derives a kind of hard won beauty.

Monday, June 2, 2014

New Paintings to Somerville Manning Gallery

Philip Koch, Memorial, oil on panel, 18 x 36”, 2010

Last Friday I delivered four new paintings to Somerville Manning Gallery in Greenville, Delaware, just outside of Wilmington. It's an extraordinary gallery in many ways. For example as I brought my work in and placed my paintings against the wall I looked up to see hanging above them a large oil by the 19th century master painter John Singer Sargent (!). Their current exhibit, the impressive American and European Masters, is up through June 14.

 Here is a bit of background on each of my new oil paintings in the gallery.

As a boy growing up in an unsettled woods on the shore of Lake Ontario outside of Rochester, NY, I was deeply impressed by the power of moonlight to illuminate the shadowy forest. Years later when my wife and I honeymooned on Mt. Desert Island in Maine I fell in love with the vast panorama of small islands one sees looking south from the summit of Mt. Desert’s Cadillac Mountain. For my oil Memorial above I imagined how my youthful memory of moonlight could transform that scene. An unseen full moon shines its cool rays down over those islands.

Deep Forest Pool, oil on panel, 15 x 20", 2014

Usually in high summer the forest floor can be pretty dark. One exception to this gloom are the clearings in the otherwise dense forests that are opened up by beaver building their ponds and huts. For that reason, and just because I find beaver fascinating animals, I've been drawn to paint beaver ponds over the years. This painting was done entirely from memory.

Beaver are normally intensely shy creatures. Once when working at the side of a beaver pond similar to this one, I was unnerved by a beaver who seemed to want to watch me as I painted. This one came to within three feet of my portable easel and just stared at me, all the while industriously chewing away on plant roots. I couldn't help but be impressed by the big teeth on the guy. I confess I felt intimidated. From the beaver’s point of view I suppose I was trespassing.

Thicket,  oil on panel, 14 x 21”, 2014

Another painting inspired by my memories of growing up in a deep forest. Near my home were abundant groves of white birches. Young birch saplings often grow tightly packed together and can seem to gesture as if they are all following directions from some unseen choreographer. This oil was based on a sketch I made while in Acadia National Park in Maine.

Edward Hopper’s Truro Studio Kitchen, oil on panel, 16 x 12”, 2012

Painted on location during one of my many residencies in the studio on Cape Cod where Edward Hopper lived and worked for three decades. This is the view standing in Hopper’s large painting room looking towards his small kitchen. Orange sunlight enters the kitchen from the far window above the kitchen sink. In the Fall of 2014, I will have my 15th residency staying and working in the Hopper studio. 

To me it's a particular honor as the studio is not open to the public. But more personally, it was seeing Hopper’s work that inspired me early in my career to change from painting abstractly to working in a realist direction.